Better Ultrasound Imaging and Sonar Through Samarium

Samarium can nearly double the performance of piezoelectric crystals used in many sensors

Piezoelectric crystals are the key ingredient in many kinds of sensors that detect vibrations, and can be found in underwater sonars and medical ultrasound imaging systems. The crystals’ performance can be dramatically improved, according to a team of researchers at Xi’an Jiaotong University in China, by adding trace amounts of a rare-earth element.

Piezoelectric materials can convert mechanical oscillations to electrical signals and vice versa. Currently, the most advanced piezoelectric devices often use a perovskite oxide crystal known as PMN-PT, which outperforms other common piezoelectric materials by roughly a factor of three in terms of efficiency. However, despite much research, progress toward improving the performance of these crystals has been slow over the past two decades, researchers say.

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